Report Offers Lessons Learned From Atlantic Philanthropies' 'Big Bets'

The "big bets for a better world" made by Atlantic Philanthropies have achieved significant results in advancing social change, with lesson for other ambitious funders, a report from the Bridgespan Group finds.

According to the report, What Ambitious Donors Can Learn From the Atlantic Philanthropies' Experience Making Big Bets (35 pages, PDF), "big bets" — defined as grants of at least $10 million to a single organization or initiative — account for about 60 percent of Atlantic's grantmaking dollars, of which nearly a third has supported various social change efforts, including capacity building in the nonprofit sector and advocacy aimed at advancing affordable health care legislation and the abolition of the death penalty. Commissioned by Atlantic, the report analyzed twenty-five of the foundation's "big bets" on social change and found that some of the most effective investments focused on a specific point of leverage where there was a funding gap. Successful "big bets" also were underpinned by the foundation's support for strong leaders and organizations through unrestricted or capacity-building funding; willingness to take risks with respect to contentious issues; and efforts to spur investments from other funders that will enable grantees to continue their work after Atlantic ends its grantmaking at the end of the year.

The report also identifies lessons for other funders to consider, noting that the foundation could have made even more big bets and focused its efforts over longer time periods; taken a more rigorous approach at times in conducting its due diligence; and made complementary investments around ambitious capital grants to ensure full utilization of physical infrastructure.

Atlantic president and CEO Christopher Oechsli said the report was commissioned "to show other donors how they can make big bets of their own to make lasting impact and achieve progress toward solving many of today's pressing social problems."